We only have four North Americans competing at Badminton this year, and all but Peter Atkins are based in England. But each one of them — Clark Montgomery, Tiana Coudray, Rebecca Howard and Peter — is looking to land a spot on their respective country’s World Equestrian Games team, so it’s going to be a very exciting event to follow here at home. Luckily, Jenni will be our boots to bring us every minute of the action. In addition to giving a preview of our North American combinations, I’ve also compiled a list of riders to watch this weekend who aren’t from our side of the Atlantic, so keep your eyes peeled for top performances from those folks as well.
Clark Montgomery and Universe: Clark and Buzz made their four-star debut last year at this very event, finishing in 27th place with only 6.4 cross-country time penalties to add to their dressage score. They went on to compete at Pau CCI4* last fall, finishing in 10th place with a double clear cross country and two rails in show jumping. Buzz has the ability to do brilliantly in dressage, if he keeps his eyeballs in his head! I think he will pull out his best test to date this time, and I fully expect that he can zoom around cross country clean and hopefully repeat his double clear show jumping record here at Badminton. With any luck, this pair could pop into the top 15 easily.
Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister: Last year this pair finished 17th here with a 43.0 on the flat, a little time on cross country and two rails in the show jumping. That goes to show you just how competitive Badminton can be, but with a good weekend, Tiana and Finn could easily improve upon that performance. They had some trouble at the four-star level while they were in the U.S., but they’ve improved immensely since moving to England permanently following the Olympics. Finn is easily one of the most talented horses out there, and I hope they can put all the phases together for a super result this weekend.
Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master: Rebecca and Rupert are another North American pair to have made the move to England, and for the betterment of their career. They’ve had several top performances since for Team Canada, including a 12th place finish here at Badminton last year with just some time on cross country to add to their dressage score of 51.3, and an 11th-place finish at Burghley in the fall with a rail and some time to add to their initial score of 51.0. They’ve been on the cusp of a really brilliant dressage score for a while now, and I’m hoping they can crack the 40s here this weekend. Followed by two clean jumping efforts, they could definitely pop into the top 15 again.
Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen: Clark’s second ride will be attempting to complete his first CCI4* this weekend, but he’s been phenomenally successful at the three-star level both in America and in England. He is consistently at the top after dressage and is a beautiful jumper. I’d be willing to grant him a green moment or two on cross country, but I almost guarantee that the other two phases will be very competitive. This will be a good step in his education as a top level horse, and the best news is that Buzz has drawn an earlier number, so Clark will be able to run around the course once on his proven horse before guiding the less experienced Glen later in the day.
Peter Atkins and Henry Jota Hampton: Peter isn’t technically representing the U.S. or Canada, but we all consider him one of us, and Henny helmet cams basically started the whole EN obsession. They’ve been around three four-stars thus far, Rolex in 2010, the WEG in 2010 and Rolex again in 2013, where they finished 1oth. After winning the Advanced at Rocking Horse this spring, they’ve had a bit of trouble at both Red Hills and The Fork, with some stops on cross country. Badminton is a totally different game than Rolex, and Peter will want to be on his top form for this new challenge as Henny takes on his first British CCI4*.
William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain: If there is anything we’ve learned from Rolex, it’s to never underestimate William’s ability to come through in the clutch moments to deliver a class performance. Cool Mountain is an experienced four-star competitor, and at 14 this year he knows his job well. He won his four-star debut at Rolex in 2010 and returned in the fall to finish as the individual silver medalist at the World Equestrian Games. In 2011, he finished 13th at Badminton, and after a year off, he came back in 2013 to get third place at Pau. He’s consistent on the flat, and like most of William’s other horses, clean over the jumps. Top 10? Yeah, sure thing.
William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning: William has to cut one of his horses from the lineup, as Badminton only allows two per rider. Chilli Morning, while obviously phenomenal horse, is William’s weakest link, if only because he hasn’t won a CCI4* event before, unlike his other two mounts. As one of the only horses to be competing at this level, Chilli has been pretty successful at that three-star level with William, and finished fifth at Pau in 2012. In 2013, they came to Rolex and posted an unreal 33 in the dressage, but sadly retired early in the course on cross country. This horse is ridiculous on the flat and can be very good over jumps, and I think that Badminton could prove to be the next step for these two.
William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk: This horse literally has not been outside the top five in any of his five CCI4* competitions, which isn’t really a record that anybody can contend with. He won his debut at Burghley in 2011, came to the U.S. and won Rolex in the spring of 2012, went back to Burghley and placed third the same year, and in 2013 went to Badminton and only placed fifth, but rebounded to another third place at Burghley in the fall. It’s hard to pick a winner, but with a record like that, it’s even harder to NOT bet on these two.
Lucinda Fredericks and Flying Finish: This is a really impressive pair, and despite their drive-by late in the course at Pau last fall, I left remembering their performance fondly, especially as they were the only pair to crack the 30s in dressage. They have a great partnership there and have been to four CCI4* competitions together. While only two of those have been clear on the cross country, when they do go clear, they hit the top 10 because of their strength in the other two phases. They were second at Luhmuhlen in 2012 and returned in 2013 for a 10th-place finish, and Badminton is a new playground for the horse, but certainly not the rider, who is well known for her domination here with fierce little Headley Britannia a few years back.
Mark Todd and NZB Campino: This was Mark’s Olympic mount, who helped him finish in 12th place individually there and then was off all of last year due to an injury. This will be his first CCI4* back, and he’s had a good lead-up to this event despite all the rain in England. He was recently fourth at Belton Park CIC3* and third at Burnham Market CIC3*, performing well in all phases. This will be his second CCI4* and first at Badminton, but there’s nothing like having Mark Todd in the irons to ensure a good trip around this big course.
Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo: There’s been some speculation about Quimbo’s longevity at the four-star level, even after his debut with a win at Rolex last year. There is no doubt that the horse is a fantastic athlete, but he looked much worse for the wear at Pau last fall and incurred a run out on cross country. That being said, it would be absurd for me to discount Andrew and a previous CCI4* winner, and I’m pretty sure that he’ll be using all his fury over his recent Rolex disaster to completely kick everyone’s ass here at Badminton.
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo: This horse is one of my favorites and has been partners with Andrew for ages now. He’s been competing at the CCI4* level for five years, completing eight competitions, including both the WEG and the Olympics. If there is a horse that knows his job, it’s Nereo. Oh, did I mention that he’s never been worse than 12th place at any of those four-stars? Oh yeah, and since Burghley 2011, where he was second, Nereo has never been out of the top four. So don’t expect that to change any time soon.
Caroline Powell and Onwards & Upwards: This horse is really an incredible jumper, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse with a better back end. I was very taken with him at Pau and couldn’t get him out of my mind. Flash has been to Pau twice and did his first Badminton last year, finishing on his dressage score. He hasn’t quite cracked into the 40s in dressage, but I feel like he’s just on the cusp. With Caroline as his jockey and an almost unblemished record in the jumping phases, I think these two could come out as a surprise this weekend.
Vittoria Panizzon and Borough Pennyz: Jenni has no shame in telling everybody that Pennyz started her “girl crush” series — and for good reason. The mare finished the London Olympics with only a single time penalty to add to her dressage score … at the age of 9. She had three rails in 2013, which is a little above average because in 2012 she only had one. They were seventh here last year, finishing on their dressage score of 47.3, so she isn’t too shabby on the flat either. Coming off two consecutive second-place finishes at both Fontainebleau CIC3* and Belton Park CIC3*, don’t be surprised when they’re in the top-10 victory gallop.
Mary King and Imperial Cavalier: Fan favorite Mary King will be galloping around Badminton this year on Archie, her Kentucky WEG and London Olympic mount. They’ve been competing together at the four-star level since 2007, making them one of the most experienced pairs here. Archie has completed nine four-stars, including six top-five finishes and only once outside the top 15. There really isn’t anything more to add, other than expect a huge cheer for Mary as she flies by on cross country with her trademark smile.
Paul Tapner and Kilronan: Alright Paul, I’m giving you the heads up: This is your year to shine with this horse. I know they’ve got all the pieces; they just have to put them all together in one weekend. They are consistently good on the flat, and the horse is a lovely, clean jumper, but they were thwarted by a drive-by at Burghley last year after posting a great dressage of 47.5. Their results are looking really good this spring, and as they come off a sixth-place finish at Belton Park CIC3*, I’m hoping for a continuation of their luck at Badminton.
Pippa Funnell & Redesigned: I’m sticking my neck out a bit here, but it’s because I fell in love with this horse at the Kentucky WEG, where he finished fifth on his dressage score of 45.5. That, and the fact that I don’t think I’m the only one waiting for the Pippa Funnell comeback tour. With all that said, they haven’t been able to get the same sort of results consistently since that time, with nagging problems along the way. I’m honorarily including them in my preview because it’s silly to exclude Pippa, and this horse is truly lovely and capable of an incredible finish.